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Summary

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9/10

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A dedicated label printer may seem like a luxury when you can buy sheets of labels for a typical A4 inkjet or laser, but if you're regularly printing addresses, bar codes or filing labels it can make financial sense, simply as a time-saving measure. Brother has always been a major manufacturer of label printers, rivalling Dymo as one of the key providers, and its QL-580N has the advantage of being fully networkable.

Made from dark grey, black and smoked acrylic plastic, this printer is all curves. It has three buttons on its smoothly sloping front panel for manual feed and label cutting, as well as power. At the back are sockets for USB, Ethernet and, for legacy users, a serial port. You don't often see those on today's printers.

It has an internal power supply, which keeps the setup neat on the desk, but this does mean there's a full-width bulge at the back of the machine, holding all the sockets.

Physical set up of the printer is remarkably easy as there's no ink involved in Brother's label printing. Instead, a thermal print head produces black-only print on the specialised paper labels provided by the company. To get printing, all you need do is load one of the supplied label cartridges install the software and connect the printer. Two starter cartridges are supplied, one for address labels and another for continuous, large-format ones - both paper.

Software consists of three different parts: a label editor, an address database and a series of Microsoft Office add-ins. The label editor is a reasonably sophisticated, small-format DTP program, geared specifically to adding text, graphics and barcodes to blank labels. The address database is pretty much what it says and enables you to store names and addresses to reuse when printing labels. Finally the add-ins for Word, Excel and Outlook give direct access to the label editor from within the Microsoft applications.

Loading the labels is particularly easy, because each is mounted on a carrier that slides straight into place, once you've folded the clear cover back. The different widths of label are detected automatically when you plug one of these carriers in. You have to feed the labels manually; it's a shame there's no automatic feed which will pick up the end of the label roll and align the labels with the head automatically.

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